Enjoying the competition

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ST. MARYS, Ga. - Mardja Gray likes to decorate her St. Marys business for Halloween, but she always waits until after the Florida-Georgia game.

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Wearing her University of Georgia dress, Callie Clark, 2, of Gainesville, Ga., plays under the Georgia Bulldogs flags outside the storefronts as her parents shop on St. Simons Island, Ga.  Morris News Service
Morris News Service
Wearing her University of Georgia dress, Callie Clark, 2, of Gainesville, Ga., plays under the Georgia Bulldogs flags outside the storefronts as her parents shop on St. Simons Island, Ga.

There's too much orange in most Halloween decorations and Ms. Gray, the owner of the Goodbread House, said she wants to make sure fans staying at her bed-and-breakfast inn don't mistake where her allegiances lie.

"I have both Georgia and Florida fans stay here every year," Ms. Gray said. "It's important fans don't think I'm showing favoritism. This game has a positive impact on my business every year."

One county to the north, fans staying in Glynn County hotels and motels might be a little less tolerant of Gators fans joining them to celebrate the annual game in Jacksonville, Fla.

Heather Ryals, the manager at the Spanky's restaurant at Colonial Mall in Brunswick, Ga., said 19 bus loads of mostly Georgia fans will leave this morning from a shopping center parking lot across from the restaurant to head to the game. She said the event is one of the busiest weekends of the year for business.

"If you're a Gator fan, I don't think you want to get on this bus," she said. "There's not an event like this."

Ms. Ryals said both Spanky's restaurants in Brunswick will have extra staff, food and beverages through the weekend to accommodate football fans.

The Florida-Georgia game, played in Jacksonville each year, is the largest annual event in terms of impact to businesses in the region, said Tonya Rosado, the director of the Kingsland Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Every year, we have 100 percent occupancy in our hotels and motels for the game," Ms. Rosado said. "We don't even need to market our city for this game."

Restaurants and gas stations also have the busiest weekend of the year when the two teams play, Ms. Rosado said.

Many Georgia fans visiting the region for the game consider downtown St. Marys to be the last stop before enemy territory.

Former St. Marys Mayor Jerry Brandon, the owner of the Riverview Hotel and a Bulldogs alumnus, said Georgia fans reserve their rooms at his hotel a year in advance, with many guests arriving days early and staying until Sunday.

Most of the guests return each year to enjoy the pregame festivities, such as the oyster roast on the hotel's patio, before taking a chartered bus to today's game.

The game, Mr. Brandon said, is among the most popular annual events in the region.

"I hope it never moves out of Jacksonville," he said.

Abby Ellis, the sales manager for The Island Inn on St. Simons Island, said it's clear most of the guests who have filled her hotel to capacity are Georgia fans.

"The island is crazy," Ms. Ellis said. "It's like a national holiday."

The holiday atmosphere for some businesses continues after the game if the Bulldogs win, said Katy Horne, the manager of Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar in Kingsland.

Ms. Horne said employees will dress in Georgia football attire for the weekend to show their support for the Bulldogs and the many fans expected to show up for pregame festivities.

Ms. Horne, who predicts a Georgia victory today, said she expects fans to return to her restaurant to celebrate after the game.

Florida fans also are welcome to participate in the post-game festivities, she said.

"We won't be too hard on them," she said of Florida fans.

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